Cape Town – Dale Steyn surplus to further Proteas requirements? Steady, now.
Events at the Wanderers over the last few days, I would argue, did more rather than less – even as he was a personal absentee from activity – to remind of his ongoing credentials for Test duty.
The national side suffered their first Test defeat in six under new coach Ottis Gibson, as India clinched the dead-rubber, controversial final Test in Johannesburg to pull back to a more respectable 2-1 series reverse.
Almost inevitably, some observers on social media and elsewhere seem to have convinced themselves, following the great fast bowler’s deeply frustrating heel-injury setback in the much earlier Newlands clash with the Indians, that the Phalaborwa Express should consider slipping into the sunset.
But anyone who knows how determinedly he rehabbed from his far more serious, long-term right shoulder injury, however, will also be aware of just how desperately he wishes to return to consistent top-flight activity for South Africa.
This is not too difficult an anatomical observation: the heel is a very long way from the shoulder, and it was largely rotten luck that Steyn fell foul of worn footmarks in the first Test at Newlands, meaning that he is likely to only recover in time for the four-Test series against Australia during March.
Up to that point, he had ironically gone a notably long way to subduing doubts about his return, at the age of 34, to the Test cause.
Steyn almost rolled the clock back to his heyday in the Newlands Test, contributing as fulsomely and incisively as any pace colleague (17.3 overs, and 2/51) in the Indian first innings, before his mishap deprived him of a second-dig bowl.
In short, it was a major step forward in his “reannouncement”, never mind the unrelated setback that then laid him low for the remainder of the series.
He was missed at the Bullring, especially, on a surface that was overly untrustworthy to batsmen – to the point of danger, and near-abandonment – and would have made the vastly experienced customer a real handful.
As SuperSport commentator and former Proteas captain and strike colleague Shaun Pollock lamented at an advanced stage of the Wanderers Test: “(Steyn) cleans up tails, gets reverse (swing) … he bowls the right lengths according to conditions.”
He was suggesting, by extension, that Steyn would have been in business to a pivotal degree had he been in the line-up there.
Pollock, now just two wickets superior to Steyn as South Africa’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker on 421, also reminded of his own playing-era motto as he watched the South African attack struggle for consistency in both lines and lengths during the Indian second knock: “Give them nothing for free.”
In spite of conditions that made both pressure-building and regular striking extremely favourable, few of the five-strong SA quickies chosen at the Wanderers reached best and most discipline-conscious standards as India crucially piled up the match’s premier total (247) in the third innings – a little against expectations by then.
Steyn is traditionally not renowned for wastage of deliveries and he was already exercising promising levels of control in his Newlands comeback, albeit so short of a proper prior gallop at first-class level.
His showing there was probably enough to convince those who steadfastly appreciate his numerous bowling qualities and general competitive juices that he will comfortably warrant a place – fitness allowing - in the Proteas’ plans for the four-Test challenge from arch-foes Australia.
Certainly head coach Ottis Gibson didn’t sound, post-match, as though he was ready to write off Steyn for future use, despite his saga of recent – he was once blissfully injury-free a lot of the time – interruptions.
Gibson was quoted as saying: “In the period that he played, he was back to his best … and (then) he got an unfortunate injury.”
It was an apt enough appraisal …*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing